“The wind is blowing away the leaves. I can see more of the bus barn, a field of yellow, and trucks like little toys coming and going. They must use the parking lot to practice backing up because the semi’s do it over and over, the beep-beep warning a distant refrain under John Dowland lute music on Pandora. If not for practice, then it must be a window into a level of transit hell where truck drivers must park exactly between the lines, and do it over and over till they get it right. As I watch yet another attempt, the fireplace rumbles and puffs, adding a soft percussive line, and occasionally a wind gust flutes across the chimney, blowing a deep under note.”
On October 10th, I embarked on a 40 day experiment: no TV shows or movies.
While my media ingestion habits were not extreme, I found that the time I spent was affecting time in other activities: reading books, writing, engaging in conversation. Passively watching media was an easy way to fill time when I was tired or when I didn’t know exactly what else to do. And, more troubling, I suspected that screen media was encroaching on my enjoyment of reading and stealing time from things I delight in doing, simply because watching pre-packaged stories requires much less effort.
Honestly, even with all the good reasons for limiting screen media, and new research about media and learning, the main reason I pulled the plug was a challenge God put to me:
“How badly do you want this contemplative life, Susan? Are you will to put forth the effort?”
“Exactly what did you have in mind, God?”
I’ve been trying to craft a life that is conducive to praying while doing sustained academic reflection, and then sharing the fruit of that reflection in intensive writing. While that has involved setting up a daily schedule and activities, I hadn’t dealt with reality of extended times of solitude yet. The biggest surprise for this introvert girl: long periods of unscheduled openness and being alone makes me twitch!
As the rhythm has settled in, I’ve found I love the idea of such a life, fear the reality of it, and fail at it daily. Thus, I prayed, “Help God!” and God’s always-wise questions laid bare a number issues, TV being one of them.
Gerald May, in Addiction and Grace, suggests that the way out of attachments is not to find a replacement attachment or addiction–something healthier, yet just as much an idol–but to sit in the spaciousness of what was once present, in all the scary vulnerable openness.
As the leaves fall, only bare branches remain.
So I’ve been sitting with the spaciousness, rather than filling it. A few times I’ve walked, pacing laps around my apartment, clearly uncomfortable with the silence. The desert monks from the 2nd century say, “Stay in your cell, and your cell will teach you everything.”
Two weeks in, the results are becoming noticeable. I no longer feel resistance toward paying attention to reading and writing. I feel more present to life in general and simply more joyful.
My own imagination seems to be dusting off spiders and cobwebs, sputtering a bit on the dust from disuse, and helping me to not only engage my life, but helping me find words to describe life.
So today, in gratitude…
For words, and that they show up when I wait patiently and attentively
Rich conversations with friends about life, God, faith and love
Helicopter seeds blown in the wind
Determined hummingbirds flying fiercely against the gusts
And an inquiring Stellar Jay…Ah! such amazing blue!